Living in a Tokyo homestay leads me to overhear many a family conversation in Japanese. Not that I understand what is being said of course, though I like to think my understanding is better than three months ago. But, one thing that I very quickly learnt, was how to recognise “angry” talk.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to reach the fluency level required to understand what the Japanese are saying when they are angry. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
Have you ever heard Swiss German or Italian being spoken? If you have, you would have been struck by the almost sing-song way they speak. These languages have nothing on the tonal changes of angry Japanese people. Nothing, xD.
The Japanese manage to incorporate both the high-pitched screeching of a baby and the dragon’s voice from The Hobbit in just three words. Their emphasis is ter-ri-fy-ing!
I was waiting for a train one time and another train had just arrived at the platform opposite mine. I then heard furious shouts in Japanese coming from inside; the words were a mixture of sounds so low they were gravely, and screeches so high pitched I think some syllables were verging on being muted. Had I been in that carriage, I would have been among the couple passengers who had switched for another, LOL.
But, where I first heard this angry talk, was in my host family. I’d hear the parents sometimes having an argument, and their adult son is so damn grumbly all the time that I never understand literally anything he says. And I should be able to, at least, like, a word. But no *sigh*.
As I also came to find out, however, emotions, like anger, are one of the only things that can be directly culturally translated.
There was this one instance where my host mum caught me within hearing distance of an argument she was having with my host father (this was one of my first exposures to it). She asked me later, a tad self-consciously, if my parents ever fought. “Yes,” I said. She sighed with relief, “I’m glad,” she replied in English.
I smiled awkwardly at that. I assumed she must have translated that directly from Japanese or directly from the way she was culturally taught to reply to my kind of answer, because what she truly meant was that she was glad for herself, knowing that she wasn’t the only one… or whatever. But, if I hadn’t have known any better, I’d think she was glad that my parents fought, xD.
It’s funny how a direct language translation is often not a direct translation in terms of actual intended meaning. Especially when cultural habits, like what I assume that reply must have been, come into a mix.
At least I know and can recognise feelings… though, admittedly, I do not yet know the Japanese names for such feelings, haha.
Until next time,